OPPOSITION Leader Bill Shorten has confirmed he will use his keynote address at the Australian Christian Lobby’s National Conference this weekend as an opportunity to state his support for marriage equality.
A spokesperson from Shorten’s office has told the Star Observer that “Mr Shorten is a supporter of marriage equality and he will be making his views clear” when he addresses the ACL this weekend.
The news comes after weeks of speculation as to whether Shorten will continue to go ahead and speak at the conference despite mounting pressure to withdraw, and as Canberra’s Park Hyatt hotel faced escalating criticism this week for hosting the event that starts on Friday.
“I can understand that you might have initially thought the ACL booking for this Friday was for a lobby group that represented Australian Christians,” rights activist Simon Hunt, aka Pauline Pantsdown, wrote on Facebook.
“Sadly, this is an anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTI fringe group that support the expulsion of LGBTI children from schools, misquote science in order to equate LGBTI people with disease, and lie to a lot more people than just a hotel booking agent.”
A spokesperson from the hotel chain has told the Star Observer that it is genuinely taking the comments on board and reiterated the company’s long-time support for the LGBTI community. However, the conference will go ahead as planned.
“Hyatt Hotel Canberra is listening to feedback via social media channels, we hear the LGBTI community’s concern that the ACL are holding an event at the hotel and would like you to know that we don’t always agree with the views of those who meet at our hotels but we don’t discriminate against guests who want to conduct lawful business at Hyatt hotels,” the spokesperson said.
The hotel chain also stated that the ACL choosing the Hyatt as their host venue did not “amount to our endorsement of any particular group of people”.
The Hyatt Hotel chain has consistently performed well in the Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Commission — the largest advocacy group for LGBTI Americans — often placing in the top 10 of LGBTI-friendly workplaces in the US.
ACL managing director Lyle Shelton said that the organisation has been saddened by the “vitriolic” social media campaign, which included ACL members being likened to Neo-Nazis and the Klu-Klux Klan.
“Apart from being untrue, this is very distressing to me, my staff and our families,” Shelton said in an ACL statement.
“Pearl clutching, haters, bigots, faeces, racist, and cult are just some of the vile insults in post after post urging our conference venue, the Hyatt, to cancel our conference.
“We have a view about marriage that is the same as a strong majority of federal parliamentarians and yet it seems that this is what is causing the outpouring of vitriol against us on Facebook.”
Shelton challenged the ACL’s critics to provide proof that the organisation was the hate group they have accused of being.
“We have been involved in a robust political debate, driven by others, in recent years. I would invite anyone to produce evidence that we are any of the things of which we are being accused,” he said.
“It would be a sad day for free speech and tolerance if promoting marriage was no longer allowed.”
In emails obtained by the Star Observer that were distributed to ACL members, chief of staff Martyn Iles said the conference has “come under an extraordinary and unprovoked attack”.
“A number of extreme gay activists are trying to shut down our National Conference,” Iles wrote.
“They have left hundreds, if not thousands of hateful reviews on the Hyatt Hotel’s website, attacking them for hosting our conference about religious freedom.
“These comments are disgusting.”
Iles also highlighted supposed contradictions in ACL opponents attacking a company that actually supports LGBTI rights.
“They’re even more extraordinary given the fact the Hyatt company have been one of the biggest global supporters of redefining marriage,” he said.
“Now the Hyatt have learned what fickle friends sections of the gay lobby can be.
“We’ve held many wonderful, Christ-honouring events there. And despite our difference of opinion over marriage, they’ve always treated us professionally and with dignity and respect.”
In response to continued criticism for not pulling out of the conference all together, the Opposition Leader’s spokesperson reiterated that he often spoke to a range of organisations that held diverse views.
“Of course, he does not always agree with all of the views of those organisations he speaks to,” the spokesperson told the Star Observer.
“It is important for the Leader of the Opposition to speak to the Australian community about what he believes and what Labor’s priorities are.”
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard pulled out of the 2012 ACL national conference following claims from deputy chairman Jim Wallace where he inferred the risk from a “homosexual lifestyle” presented a greater health hazard than smoking.
Gillard described the comments as “heartless and wrong”.
Wallace will speak again this weekend’s conference, along with Baptist pastor and radio host Karl Faase, incoming Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, religious liberty analyst Elizabeth Kendal, Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash, researcher Paul Henderson and Blair federal Labor MP Shayne Neumann.